DUMMY DOLDRUMS

As I have mentioned here (ad nauseum, I’m sure), these days I pretty much do the photography thing in order to discover and to learn.

The great thing about that is that I get to, well . . . I get to discover and learn. And once I’ve completed a project all I want to do is another. You know, more discovery, more learning.

But these days we must commodify our output, right? I mean, if we want a career in the photo-biz we’ve got to put at least as much time into careering as we put into creation. We’ve got to make the rounds and seduce (in our own way) the powers-that-be and the gate-keepers in order to get that exhibition, that grant, that acceptance.

So  . . .

I’ve been in the dummy doldrums. My current project is nearing its final shape and it kind of feels like I’ve gone through the peak-excitement phase of the process. But I realize I need to take this last project through, I need to fine tune it in preparation for its commodification.

The sequence seems (to my mind) set . . . now how do I turn it into a book? That’s what I’ve been working on, pecking away at yet another version of the dummy. But it’s inevitable that a designer be brought in to apply their expertise and show me things that have never crossed my mind.

One of the other things I’ve been doing to move this project towards completion is, I’ve been crafting a short, sharp, 250 word blurb that informs and intrigues. Not exactly an artist statement, more a prospectus.

Now, I like writing. I find that if approached in a certain way it can, like photography, show you something you didn’t know was there. And that’s happening with the writing I’m doing for this work, it’s teasing out some nuances I hadn’t noticed or thought about before.

But I don’t want the writing to give too much away. I’m pretty sure the work is able to speak for itself so the last thing I want to do is to direct, in any direct way, what folks should see in these photographs.

And I do want people to see this work, these photographs.

But I seem to always do this last bit, the publishing bit, grudgingly. The thrill of discovery is gone and all that’s left is the drudge work. I mean, sure, you get to fine tune and make stuff with your hands and deal with a million details.

But, really, I’d rather be out in the world turning over stones, seeing what kind of bugs crawl out.

 

QUARTER-FINAL DUMMY

It feels like I’m getting close to a final, or, realistically, a quarter-final dummy. Five thousand images have been whittled down to forty-six in a specific order. And, after a surprising amount of finagling, the text has been sorted, too.

I’m happy with the general look and feel, the flow of images and, for lack of a better word, the content. Now it seems that what’s left is a whole bunch of detail work (final design, fonts, format, image size, etc.).

The first dummy was made of 3×4 inch work prints slotted into the sleeves of a 5×7 album.

That served its purpose for about a week, a week of moving images from here to there in the sequence and some preliminary fine-tuning.  The images were too small, though, to show to anyone else, so I did it all again, this time using a standard print size of 5×7 inches in an 8.5×11 album. I also took this opportunity to fine-tune the prints a bit. Still not the final versions, but closer.

This is the dummy I showed to all sorts of people. Their feedback, and further thinking on my part, resulted in moving some images around, removing some  entirely and adding others. A general tightening up.

Then . . .

I had initially thought that each image should carry an equal weight, so all the prints in the dummy were the same size. But what would happen, I wondered, if I varied the size of the prints . . . what would that look like, how would it work?  And, what sizes should I use?

So I had another look at the dummy and figured out a strategy. I’d use the same sequence, but 3 different print sizes. Once that was decided it was sort of obvious which prints should be standard size, which should be bigger and which should be biggest.

So, as of today, this is where it stands. There will be more changes, but it’s beginning to feel quite tight, real right.


 Please note that drool. is completely searchable. If you want to read all the book-making posts just click on the pertinent key-word(s) near the top of the post (desktop) or at the bottom (mobile).

You can also use the search field to type in just about anything. That’ll show you a bunch of posts that are germane to whatever it is you typed in. (Try, for instance, typing “string theory, james joyce, richard avedon”.)

FIRST DUMMY

Well, I finally committed to a first dummy. I more or less settled on a sequence, made 5 x 7 1/2 inch work prints, stuck them onto 8 1/2 x 11 paper and slid them into an album.

Looking at the whole thing flat on a wall is a very different experience from seeing the images in a book. When you transfer the sequence from the wall to a book you experience the photos on pages and turns, you see how it works and doesn’t work. Because of this you inevitably end up moving a whole bunch of pictures around. So for the first dummy I like to use cheap photo albums that have sleeves, which allows for easy shifting of the images.

As I was sliding the images into the album I saw some stupidity right away and changed bits of the sequence then and there. Then, first time ever, once the prints were all inserted I closed the album and walked away. Usually I rush to an easy chair and flip through right away. But I’m trying to take it easy here, stay relaxed. If you don’t this process can climb on top of you like bad drugs. (You ever taken bad drugs? You end up bent out of shape on the floor, just trying not to die. Yup.)

Got up the next morning, had some coffee, made breakfast, ate it, then sat in an easy chair and had a look at what I’d done. Before I was halfway through I began rearranging images and, in the end, removed four entirely.

Then I showed it to Cin. She had mostly positive things to say (the best being, as she closed the book, “How the fuck did you do that?”). She also pointed out a number of bad choices as well as some confusion and, conversely, not enough confusion in the flow of images. Then we had a wide-ranging discussion about the work in general.

That led to further changes (refinements?) and then, over the next few days, I spent a fair amount of time having a harder look at the thing. That resulted in even more changes.

Now I’m gonna show it to all manner of folks, get more feedback. Then I’ll have to weigh a bunch of disparate comments, have a rethink, and get down to the second dummy.

Feels good, though, to finally have something in my hands.

(AND, PARENTHETICALLY)

(I might mention that I generated about 5,000 images over the year and a half I was shooting this project. That was whittled down, over two and a half months of edit/sequence, to the 45 that, at this point, are in the book.

The fact that there were 5000 to choose from is unusual for me. Most of my projects are shot on film. When I shoot film I approach the subject in a different way: I shoot more slowly, consider more, take fewer pictures, so the shape of the project becomes more defined during the shooting phase.

Of course it’s necessary to apply a tight edit/sequence no matter how you shoot the photos, no matter how many you have to choose from. In a lot of the digi vs film debates that used to rage, and still rear up from time to time, these differences [how the tool changes your relationship to the subject, the subjects’ relationship to you, what that causes and how you deal with the aftermath] . . . these differences don’t seem to enter the conversation too much. But it does make a difference.)

THE LATEST

Quite often a photographer’s favourite photo is the latest one they’ve made that doesn’t suck too much. That favourite image is then inevitably supplanted by their next photo that doesn’t suck too much.

Nothing wrong with measuring your success by admiring the endless parade of photos you’ve made that have, shall we say, worked out. Unless, of course, you view photography as something more than just liking your latest good picture.

If you consider each of your photos as a piece of a larger construct you will be forced to look at and judge your photos on merits other than “hey! this looks good”. You’ll need to assess them by how they fit into the larger scheme of things.

I mention this because of where I am in the edit/sequence of my new project. All the shooting, up to now, has been done without thinking about specifics too much. I had a general idea, shot a whole bunch of pictures that might somehow support that thesis, and trusted that I had enough options to make the edit/sequence work.

But now, at this point of the project, I realize I need a few more specific images to make the sequence smoother. One of them being a portrait-type photo of a young woman.

So I went out and shot it (yesterday). It has become my latest picture that (I think) doesn’t suck too much.

Whether it will actually work for the project remains to be seen. I have to print it, insert it into the sequence, and see what’s what. I hope it’s what I need, but there’s every chance it’ll join the big pile of photos that I like but just don’t work.

We’ll see.


ABOUT A BLOG

Last week I was wondering why my projects don’t all look the same. Same goes for this blog. I mean, of course there’s a kind of continuity here, dead horses I continue to flog. (Writer Martin Amis once said, “The only reason to flog a dead horse is for the pure enjoyment of it”.)

I think we’re all a bit like that, us humans, us photographers. We latch on to something (or other) and somehow (or other) the tables turn and the thing we’ve latched onto gets its hooks into us. That can be good up to a point, obsession must be part of any practice, mustn’t it? But what’s even better is when that obsession is tempered by a larger perspective, a longer view. That’s where theory meets practice, where the inner meets the outer, where old thoughts are tempered by new possibilities.

Anyway . . . drool.

I can tell you (and you probably know with being told) that some weeks I’m just itching to say something, something is on my mind, I’m affected by, and infected with, some verve. Other weeks, not so much. But I’m committed to posting something (or other) every Sunday. Like church.

I like the structure. And, sometimes, when I sit down to write, I’m blank, empty, depressed. I’ve got nothing, but the process of writing leads to something (or other). (Or not.)

It’s all really just a shot in the dark, isn’t it? But the important thing is to take a shot.

And, because of the relatively short gestation period from post to post, drool. reflects my state of mind in a different way than my photo projects.

drool. fulfills a function for me. Like my photo projects it’s a way to keep track and to reckon, to try to understand myself and the world, and to leave a trace of my passage through.

EDIT (INTERLUDE)

Finally back to the edit/sequence of my project. There was some delay because my printer broke. Had to drag my sorry ass down to the store to get a new one. (P800, in case you’re interested.)

But enough about that . . . what about the edit?

I spent the last year and a half shooting this project. It began with a broad conception and I photographed all sorts of things that felt like they might work, fit. Now, seven weeks into the edit/sequence, I’m beginning to hone it, to zero in. And, as I thought, as I wanted, it seems to be about (for lack of a better word) some dark shit: the potential (maybe even the propensity) of homo sapiens to fuck things up. (Or something like that. I don’t know. In the end it’ll be up to you to decide, if you see it.)

In the meantime . . .

One of the things I’ve been thinking about, as I look at what I’ve done, study these photos and try to shape them, is, what if things get better? What if the First World isn’t as broken as it seems, what if the premise of this project is wrong?

But if you look at, study, history, if you consider the long view, it’s kind of obvious that the “prosperity” and “progress” of the last half of the 2oth Century (the era we’re familiar with and, so, think of as normal) was an aberration. Planet Earth has always been a tough place. Yes, homo sapiens have mostly progressed, but that progression always comes with, is situated within, a background of violence and repression. And often that background becomes foreground.

So I suppose I needn’t worry too much that things will get better in the short run. And, man, how perverted does that sound? Worrying that things will get better because it might fuck up my project, my projection? That’s just weird, right?

I mean, of course I hope things get better. But, to quote Robert Frank: “Look out for hope”. The beauty of that sentence being that it cuts both ways.

And, anyway, hoping ain’t worth shit. Kinda like thoughts and prayers.

So here I am, in the dark place this work is taking me. Not that I don’t find joy in the small things: walking the dog, cooking dinner, working and learning, trying. But I’ll leave changing the world, and hoping, to someone else.

Finally, here are some words I found when I was well into the shooting for this project. They seem to sum up what I’m working towards . . .

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
-Bertolt Brecht